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14 of the best books for three-year-olds: brilliant books little ones will love

Bored of board books and looking for some inspiring material for your 3-year-old? From classics to hidden gems, these are the books Mumsnetters recommend for preschoolers.

By Poppy O'Neill | Last updated Sep 21, 2023

Best books for 3 year olds

This article was updated by MNHQ on 12th September 2023.

Reading is one of life's great pleasures and, as many parents will tell you, a great way to broaden the minds of already-imaginative preschoolers who will soon be starting school. The best books for three-year-olds will inspire and entertain kids with engaging illustrations and well-written stories. So get cosy and tell your toddler to grab their best doll or teddy, because it's story time.

Shopping for the best toys for three-year-olds is one thing, but books are another kettle of fish entirely. We wanted to put together a guide to the very best books your three-year-old will love and ask for again and again (and again).

While you may already have a bookshelf littered with board books for babies and toddlers, you can now move away from those and slowly expand the collection. And who better to give you some much-needed inspiration than fellow parents?

Mumsnet users are experts when it comes to children's books. Our selection of the best books for three-year-olds is based on what has come most highly recommended on the Mumsnet forums, including our children's book topic, as well as on bestseller lists and expert reviews. So if you're looking for a book to read that your child won't be able to put down (and you will inevitably grow very tired of), you've come to the right place.

Here are the 14 must-have books for three-year-olds.

Best books for 3-year-olds: editor's pick

Best activity book for 3 year olds

Wipe-Clean Airport Activities
Kirsteen Robinson

Shop now
Best dinosaur book for 3-year-olds

The Dinosaur Space Rescue
MJ Jones

Shop now
the tiger who came to tea by judith kerr
Best bedtime book for 3-year-olds

The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Judith Kerr

Shop now

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy by Lynley Dodd

Price on writing: £6 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Flawless rhyming

  • Engaging illustrations

  • Part of a series

What Mumsnet users say

“The Hairy Maclary series of books have been an unexpected hit here.” Loved by Mumsnetter FeliciaMcAspieGreer

Our verdict

With a procession of excellently-named and beautifully drawn dogs (and occasionally cats if you buy more in the series - black cat Slinky Malinky is a particular favourite), this classic book by Lynley Dodd is perfect for 3-year-olds, who’ll love to join in with the expertly crafted rhymes.

The dogs get up to all sorts of mischief but naturally, all is resolved by the end of the book. The book is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, which testament to how much kids and parents adore it.

Related: The best toys for 2-year-olds, tried and tested by Mumsnetters

Alfie Gets in First by Shirley Hughes

Price on writing: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Gentle storytelling

  • Relatable to young children

  • Nostalgic illustrations

What Mumsnet users say

“Alfie and Annie Rose, Lucy and Tom, and of course Dogger all much loved.” Recommended by Mumsnetter QueenCarrot

“The Alfie stories by Shirley Hughes are loved here.” Loved by Mumsnet user Doveyouknow

Our verdict

The title says it all - but in the hands of Shirley Hughes a situation which in real life would be a major headache with a toddler, baby and an arm full of shopping bags becomes a touching story of resilience. 

Mumsnetters love the Alfie and Annie Rose books - with many of them fondly remembering the stories from their own childhoods. Dogger is another of Hughes’ books that brings a tear to many parents’ eyes. A true classic with a gentle message of resourcefulness and problem solving for parents and children alike.

Read next: The best stair gates, as recommended by Mumsnetters

The Dinosaur Space Rescue by MJ Jones

Price on writing: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • A story about the importance of gratitude

  • Great for dino-loving kids

  • Lovely rhymes

What Mumsnet users say

“My sons (3 and 6) absolutely adore it. The text is even colour coded to the characters so I can 'do voices'. It’s such a wonderful book.” Recommended by Mumsnetter MumboNo5

Our verdict

A must for those who like to do funny voices, this tale of three unruly dinosaurs rescued by aliens from a wayward comet is sure to charm both 3-year-olds and parents alike. 

With a message about the importance of gratitude woven into the story, the book is both fun and quietly educational. We also love the bright illustrations and quirky jokes - there’s something for everyone in this book.

Related: The best child safety locks for babyproofing your home

Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton

Price on writing: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Fantastic for reading aloud

  • Funny and irreverent 

  • Ending is great for sparking conversation with little ones

What Mumsnet users say

“Oh No, George! makes everyone smile.” Recommended by Mumsnetter Doveyouknow

“I agree on Chris Haughton - Oh No, George! is a life lesson in a brilliant book.” Loved by Mumsnet user jackfrosttoes

Our verdict

With bold, unique illustration and text made to be read aloud, Oh No, George! is bound to be a favourite with little ones. The story follows George, a dog who really, really wants to be good but temptation gets in the way. 

Ending on a cliffhanger, the story is perfect for getting kids thinking about choices and putting themselves in the shoes of a fictional character.

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The Cow Who Climbed a Tree by Gemma Merino

Price on writing: £5 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Gorgeous illustrations

  • Lovely message that it’s OK to be different

  • Part of a series

What Mumsnet users say

“DD and I love Gemma Merino's stories. Our favourite is The Cow Who Climbed a Tree, but also try The Crocodile Who Didn't Like Water, The Sheep Who Hatched an Egg and Harry in a Hurry. Beautiful illustrations too.” Recommended by Mumsnetter JamMakingWannaBe

Our verdict

The story follows Tina, a young cow with a big dream. Going against the doubts of her sisters, she climbs a tree and meets a giant. Little ones will love the beautifully flowing writing and the engaging illustration that make up this lovely book. 

With a positive message about being yourself no matter what others think, this is a brilliant book to teach 3 year olds the value of integrity and ambition. 

Related: The best changing bags for all your toddler gear

Moonface's Story by Enid Blyton & Emily Lamm

Price on writing: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Toddler-friendly take on a classic chapter book

  • Beautiful, colourful illustrations

  • New story written by Emily Lamm

What Mumsnet users say

“They seem to have recently created picture books based on the Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton - Moonface's story and Silky's story. My 3 year old DD loves them.” Recommended by Mumsnetter PineappleWilson

Our verdict

Grown-up fans of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree chapter book series will be pleased to know they can introduce even younger kids to the world of Silky, Moonface and Saucepan Man with this charming picture book. 

The newly-penned story based on the classic books finds Moonface searching for a cake for his birthday party. Our one qualm is that the story only really makes sense if you’re already familiar with the Faraway Tree universe, so be prepared for slightly random adventures if you’re not already a Faraway Tree aficionado!

Read next: The best books for 2-year-olds, as recommended by Mumsnetters

The Disgusting Sandwich by Gareth Edwards and Hannah Shaw

Price on writing: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Funny and chaotic

  • Kids will love to join in with the refrain

  • 3-year-olds love a bit of grossness

What Mumsnet users say

“My 3 year old loves The Disgusting Sandwich.” Recommended by Mumsnetter Purplesparkle34

Our verdict

A little boy drops his sandwich in the sandpit at the park, and what ensues is a brilliant, funny story of one badger’s quest for a disgusting lunch. Kids will adore the yuck factor as well as the detailed illustrations with so much to see on every page. 

The repeated refrain of “can’t eat it now, it’s disgusting!” is one young children will love to join in with and the twist at the end is brilliant. 

Related: The best toddler toys Mumsnetters love

Wipe-Clean Airport Activities by Kirsteen Robson

Price on writing: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Helps familiarise kids with an airport environment

  • Wipe-clean for re-using on the journey home

  • Part of a series

What Mumsnet users say

“I always have loads of sticker books and wipe clean books.” Tried and tested by Mumsnetter HuloBeraal

Our verdict

Now for something a little different to the other books on our list. We know how tricky travel can be for parents and kids alike, and activity books like this one are a popular choice among Mumsnetters for keeping little ones entertained during flights, car rides and delays. 

This particular book features lots of kid-friendly activities set in an airport, but there are loads of options in Usborne's wipe-clean series of books - from zoos to unicorns, superheroes to mermaids. We liked the airport activity book as it’ll help kids get to grips with what can be a bewildering and stressful part of any holiday.

Read next: The best balance bikes, tried and tested by preschoolers

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

the gruffalo by julia donaldson

Price on writing: £4 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Brilliant writing

  • Fun rhyme

  • Woodland setting

What Mumsnet users say

“The gruffalo never gets old." Recommended by Mumsnetter Queensize

Our verdict

A popular book loved by parents and children alike, The Gruffalo is the rhyming story of a mouse who goes for a walk in the woods, successfully scaring off his enemies with fictional tales of the monstrous Gruffalo.

That is until he accidentally encounters the real Gruffalo and finds out that even the most threatening of monsters aren't always as scary as they first appear.

Related: The best cot beds for a comfy night's sleep

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

the tiger who came to tea by judith kerr

Price on writing: £4 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Cosy illustrations

  • Inspires little ones' imaginations

What Mumsnet users say

"It was one of my favourites as a child, and both my DC loved it when they were little too. It was known as Tiger Tea in our house." Recommended by Mumsnet user Seeline

"It's a trip into a child's imagination, where extraordinary things can happen that look scary but turn out to be just extraordinary.Drawings and story work beautifully together.That's why it's a classic." Loved by Munsnetter tiktok

Our verdict

Who doesn't love The Tiger Who Came to Tea? Combining cosy illustration, gentle language and a fantastical storyline, Judith Kerr's masterpiece is a true classic.

A children's classic about a big stripy tiger who joins a family for tea (and possibly with a few underlying messages – Mumsnet users have many an interpretation to share), this is book has been, and will continue to be, enjoyed by families for generations.

Read next: The best mattresses for kids - tried and tested

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers


Price on writing: £6.63 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Gently adventurous

  • Gorgeous illustrations

  • Sweet message about friendship

What Mumsnet users say

"I love the illustrations in Oliver Jeffers books. I think my favourite of his is Lost & Found." Recommended by Mumsnetter BernadetteRostankowskiWolowitz

Our verdict

When a lonely penguin appears at the door of a young boy, he decides the penguin must be lost and decides to return it home to the South Pole himself. A beautiful, uplifting story of friendship parents and children alike will enjoy.

A bestselling picture book centred around a great adventure, Lost and Found is ideal for children aged three upwards.

Related: The best bunk beds for siblings and sleepovers

You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt


Price on writing: £4 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Open-ended and interactive

  • Toddlers can enjoy the book by themselves or with an adult

  • Different every time you read it

What Mumsnet users say

"My 3.5 year old loves You Choose, which is a picture book without a story, simply a selection of different pictures in which you can choose your favourite (house, pet, vehicle etc). I think the appeal is that we spend a while discussing each page rather than reading a set story, and it's very "busy", each page being crammed with things to look at." Recommended by Mumsnetter user1464552773

Our verdict

Most will recognise Nick Sharratt's unique illustrations from many a Jacqueline Wilson book, but, among young readers, his interactive picture book, You Choose, has become a firm favourite.

Author Pippa Goodhart explores a whole host of scenarios where choosing is made fun – with something new and exciting to be found on every page.

Related: The best train sets for kids of all ages

Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr


Price on writing: £4.50 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Gentle humour

  • Warm-hearted adventures

  • Part of a big series

What Mumsnet users say

"Her wonderful books must have been a massive part of so many mothers on Mumsnet - reading the Mog books all snuggled up with our little ones." Loved by Mumsnetter truthisarevolutionaryact

"I loved Mog as a child and I read it with my toddler DS yesterday." Treasured by Mumsnet user PhillipeFellope

Our verdict

Mog the Forgetful Cat is the story of an unforgettable cat forever getting in the way of her owners, the Thomas family.

A delightful read about everyone's favourite family feline, this Judith Kerr classic is now available in a special 50-year anniversary edition.

Read next: The best nightlights Mumsnetters recommend

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

owl babies by martin waddell

Price on writing: £5.59 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Sweet illustrations

  • Gentle, ressuring message

  • Great for separation anxiety

What Mumsnet users say

"I work shifts so have to prepare my daughter for this a lot. We actually use Owl Babies and other stories like ' Oh my baby little one'. We talk about missing one another and what sort of things to do when you're sad. We also talk about what we will do when we next have time together. Lots of hugs too!" Recommended by Mumsnet user ohlittlepea

Our verdict

With detailed illustrations and a tender tale that's embedded itself in households for almost 30 years, Owl Babies is the story of three baby owls who wake up to find their mother has gone.

Tackling the theme of temporary separation that all children are likely to face, be that at nursery or on the first day of school, this is a great read for children who need some extra reassurance.

Read next: The best weighted blankets for kids, tried and tested by Mumsnetters

Verdict: What are the best books for a three-year-old?

While we wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of the picture books on this list, parents on Mumsnet particularly love The Gruffalo. Its catchy rhyme and vivid characters have made it a modern classic, sure to be enjoyed by generations to come.

You Choose has also garnered a fair amount of praise for its interactive qualities and the opportunity it gives to let children's imaginations run riot.

About the author

Poppy O'Neill is a Content Editor at Mumsnet and a mother of two. She's been researching and reviewing baby and child products for 2 years, with a particular focus on baby essentials, toys and books for toddlers and outdoor play equipment. From potties to paddling pools and bunk beds to bedtime stories, she loves to deep-dive into research and find the best products out there.

Poppy is also the best-selling children's and parenting author of books such as Don't Worry, Be Happy, The Extraordinary Book That Makes You Feel Happy and Mother Power. She specialises in children's mental health and her books are used by therapists, teachers and SENCOs across the UK. She won the Kate Betts Memorial Prize in 2019, her books have been translated into eight languages and her writing has featured in The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Sun.

After earning a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Leeds and a PGCert in Fashion and Lifestyle Journalism from University of the Arts London, she worked in fashion for most of her 20s. When her children were young, she undertook an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester and re-trained as an author and freelance writer.

How we chose our recommendations

Most of our recommendations for books came from Mumsnet users themselves. We searched the Mumsnet forums for posts about which books Mumsnetters and their children really rated. We also researched various review sites to find out which books performed well across the board.

Why you should trust us

We work hard to provide unbiased, independent advice you can trust. We do sometimes earn revenue through affiliate (click-to-buy) links in our articles. This helps us fund more helpful articles like this one. However, we never allow this to influence our coverage.